Shape and Substance

meditations on faith and church

Month: December, 2018

Christmas Rose

Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming from tender stem hath sprung!
— Traditional German Carol
Were there roses before there were thorns?
Or did thorns give rise to roses?
Rilke said, 
Denn das Schöne ist nichts als des Schrecklichen Anfang…. *

And Stevens, 
“Death is the mother of beauty….”
I say 
blood and beauty are identical twins
born of love, and laid in a manger.
And to love is to live 
and to live is to die
and to die is to love. 
I have held a rose.
I have been pierced by thorns.
Truth has not one nature
but two.
* “For beauty is nothing other than the beginning of terror.”

The Shepherds’ Prayer

Note: This poem is set as a hymn to the author’s tune, “Wrigley.”. 

O God of the shepherds in night-fallen pastures,
God of the angels suspended in flight,
God of the moon-dark, the maiden’s frail gesture,
O God of the man-child who cries in the night:
Illumine the night with the angels’ cold glory;
linger with us when the host turns away
and flees into heaven, and whisper the story
we ponder with wonder as night turns to day.
Your glory is fierce, and it tests our conviction
to follow the path to the manger and inn,
a glory that ends in a dark crucifixion
for any who muster the heart to begin.
So bind up our courage and lead us through darkness
from sheepfold and stable to table and tomb,
from manger and mother to glory incarnate,
Light of the world in the dark of the womb.


Suppose it was not an angel,
but dust-mites floating in a shaft of light,
an idle breeze billowing the curtain,
whispering the wild and wordless wonder 
of the ages. 
Suppose it was not a message 
from a god no one has ever claimed to see 
and from whom only madmen claim to hear
such promises as these to strain the limits
of belief,
but only a poor girl’s fantasy
who had no sense of natural causation
and no better explanation near to hand
than godly violation of the sanctum
of her womb.
Tell me, could you blame her
for telling such a tale and, tale once told,
believing it with all the heart she had,
relying on the growing evidence
of her belly?
And if she believed it,
kept it in her heart, then why not we?
Why not the world—can it not always use
a god or two who yield up life in service
of the holy?
Here am I, she said,
a statement less of certainty than hope.
And wondering if we could say as much,
we follow at a distance on the road
to Bethlehem.